A New Back to School Checklist

Author: Anika L. Sanda, MD, Prima Kids Pediatrician

Anika L. Sanda, MDIt feels as it was just yesterday when my daughter graduated under the song “It takes a million dreams” from elementary school. And in a few weeks, she goes back to school! Just as the idea of starting middle school creates a mix of emotions of fear and excitement for her, the same feelings are there for every child whether starting kindergarten, high school or just a new grade.

A back to school checklist (this is not your typical list of supplies, books, etc.) might help with preparing for such transitions and emotions both for you and your child.

  1. Self-regulation. This includes skills like waiting your turn, expressing your emotions in positive ways and being respectful of others. These skills are important to maintain healthy relationships with friends, teachers and family members and thus create an optimum learning environment. Self-regulation starts with parental modeling and practicing such behaviors at home. Activities such as gardening and cooking with your children, believe it or not, help with impulse control. It takes a great deal of patience to see those seeds become plants! Limiting screen time to less than two hours a day, avoiding fast-paced and violent media and increasing outside play all have been shown to increase impulse control, attention and success in school. Your kids might not be happy with these limitations but have consistency in the delivery of your message and use a firm but gentle tone.
  2. Self-sufficiency. Teaching children independence improves their self-esteem, an important component for learning. Here we’re talking about basic self-care: learning how to tie your shoelaces, taking a bath, brushing out your hair, brushing your teeth, preparing your backpack in the evening and even making your own lunch. Allowing your child to make their own choice of tasks and fail in a safe environment helps nurture resiliency both in life and school.
  3. Kindness. I know this is cliché but it’s actually very important to success in school for your child. And it begins from the day your child is born. Talking in soft tones, singing to your child and being there for your child when they are scared or hurt all help nourish kindness in your child. Also, model kindness with your interactions with everyone else in your lives including your kids. Don’t be afraid to apologize to your child if you make a mistake, it teaches them humility which goes along with kindness.
  4. Nutrition. Studies have shown that eating breakfast with complex carbohydrates (like whole grains), fiber-rich foods (like fruit), and proteins (dairy, eggs, meats, nuts) in the morning gives your child the right kind of energy to learn at school. Avoiding simple sugars helps prevent brain drain. For teens, it gets harder to keep up eating a healthy breakfast as they tend to sleep in late. Providing them with quick breakfast items like boiled eggs, a low sugar granola bar with nuts and seeds, a whole grain sandwich with a nut/seed butter or even a glass of milk will allow them to have better concentration and prevent obesity. Also, eating together as a family and without television or electronics helps to maintain that strong bond between the parent and the child. Family dinners are a great time to share your values and traditions over good food. Talking about the dangers of vaping and cyberbullying are easier to talk about over a family meal!
  5. Lastly, but most importantly, don’t forget about sleep! Quality sleep has been linked to better attention, behavior, learning, health and overall happiness. The American Academy of Pediatrics, a team of experts in the area of pediatrics and sleep have recommended no screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime, not having televisions, computers or other screens in the child’s bedroom and keeping bedtime routines. The average sleep requirement for a preschooler is between 10-13 hours, for the elementary child, between 9-12 hours, and 8-10 hours for the middle and high schoolers.

I know this is not the checklist you may have expected with backpacks, lunch boxes, pencils, books, etc. but I feel these components are more important to the success of your child in school and to happiness for life. Have a safe and wonderful school year!